When Chess Putnam is ordered by an infamous crime boss—who also happens to be her drug dealer—to use her powers as a witch to solve a grisly murder involving dark magic, she knows she must rise to the challenge. Adding to the intensity: Chess’s boyfriend, Terrible, doesn’t trust her, and Lex, the son of a rival crime lord, is trying to reignite the sparks between him and Chess.
As Chess is drawn into a shadowy world of twisted secrets and dark violence, it soon becomes clear that she’s not going to emerge from its depths without making the ultimate sacrifice.
A typical night, the streets alive with degeneracy. Sometimes, she loved Downside.
Review: In this fourth installment to the Downside Ghosts series, Stacia Kane takes us on a dark, sometimes disturbing, yet always fascinating, journey through Downside, Triumph City with drug-addicted Churchwitch Chess Putnam. Fans of this series have waited a long time since City of Ghosts was released in August 2010, and Stacia Kane delivers in spades. Returning to Downside is like coming home (minus the slums and drugs and whatnot). Stacia Kane is a masterful writer and proves it once again in Sacrificial Magic.
Sacrificial Magic takes place a month or two after the events of City of Ghosts. Chess and Terrible are trying out a real relationship, which for Chess, is like walking on a circus wire. One wrong move and she believes her relationship with Terrible will disintegrate. She is still working for the Church and maintaining an excellent track record. Bump and Slobag are still fighting for territory and shady business in Downside. And, as always, ghosts are out and about.
Chess is assigned to investigate a school on Slobag’s side of town. A ghost of an ex-student has been spotted, and this ghost sighting is seemingly connected to sacrificial magic and fires that are occurring in Bump’s territory. Chess is once again caught in the middle between the Church and Bump. While investigating the school haunting, she must also investigate the murders and fires in Bump’s buildings.
This book takes us very deeply into Chess’ psyche. From previous books, we all know that Chess has a tragic and tortured past. We already know that she has next to no self-esteem. In Sacrificial Magic, we learn more details about Chess’ past abuse and we see that her self-worth is even more damaged than previously thought. Chess is one of the most dysfunctional characters I have ever come across. She sees herself in such a warped way that it causes a lot of friction between her and Terrible, and it brought me to tears. It’s amazing that Chess is still alive, considering what she has suffered through and how she hates herself. I was awash in her misery and pained at her dysfunctional interactions with Terrible. This is a major theme throughout this book.
Security Chess hoped and hoped would last, despite the nagging voice in the back of her mind that insisted it couldn’t, it wouldn’t, she didn’t deserve it, and she should just give up the idea.
Terrible is so very vulnerable in his own right. Chess thinks throughout this book that Terrible doesn’t trust her, when all along, it was the other way around, and it took Chess a lot of heartache to come to this realization. But Terrible has enough self-esteem to be Chess’ rock. There’s a heartbreaking scene where Terrible and Chess say some truly horrid things to one another. Things that are fueled by an exceedingly high Chess. But Terrible never pushes Chess away, and he never judges her.
And there was that damned grin again. That was so dangerous. So fucking dangerous. And every day that went by only made it worse, only made it harder to face the inevitable moment when he’d decide he’d had enough of her, when he’d get tired of her body and realize who she really was. That he didn’t trust her and never could. Every day that went by was another day gone. Another day closer to the end.
At some point during this book, Chess begins to turn the corner on her perception of her drug addiction. Chess contemplates her past emotional scars, and her previous suicidal thoughts. We even see the genesis of her drug issues. While working this case, she finds a dead body of a man that has died due to a drug overdose. This slowly plays on Chess’ mind through the remainder of this book.
Dead and alone in a room full of drugs, rotting and alone with pills crushed into the carpet. Dead while nobody gave a fuck, a lonely addict’s death in silence with no one to even notice. Tears poured down her cheeks and she couldn’t stop them; her breath whistled in her chest. Without Terrible that’s what she’d be, no one cared, no one really gave-
Chess also has to work with ex-lover Lex. She was in a very precarious position throughout this book. As much as Chess loves Terrible, and she really, truly does, she likes Lex and want to be friends with him. He puts her in a difficult position with Terrible a couple of times. I’ve said this before about Lex, but Stacia Kane does not give us the easy out on this one. Lex has never done anything wrong to Chess. He has helped her out of some very bad situations, and it is clear in this book that he still has feelings for Chess.
There is a big confrontation at the end of this book, with some surprises. Chess is given a choice and a temptation that was nerve-wracking for me to read. There are guns and knives, magic and fighting, ghosts and fire. It is a huge ending that will reverberate throughout the next book.
“I chose you,” she managed, choking out the words in a strangled, warbly sounding whisper.
"I chose you, I chose you all but I chose you, I love you you much and I chose you-”
There is a very touching scene between Chess and Terrible at the end of this book that had my Terrible-loving heart racing with happiness. Chess battles her inner demons and truthfully tells Terrible what he means to her, and it was a beautiful scene. Chess is so very damaged, yet she grows so much in this book. She comes to terms with her feelings for Terrible, she begins to realize that she is worth something as a person, and she is in the very beginning of viewing her drug addiction as a real problem. I’m so proud of how far Chess has come in this series. Throughout it all, Terrible is Chess’ rock. He accepts every damaged bit of her, and this is what is giving her the strength to become the person she wants to be.
Now she did see the change in him, saw the slow smile start, the one that always made her feel so good because she could make it appear. “Always want you, Chessiebomb. Always.”
There are still a lot of outstanding questions left at the end of this book, which I am guessing will be dealt with more in-depth in Chasing Magic. We saw the effect the sigil has on Terrible in this book, but how will this hurt Terrible in future books? Can Chess remove it? Will Chess continue on this path of self-worth, or will she have set backs? How will Lex and his new position affect Chess and Terrible in the future? How will Chess’ relationship with Terrible affect her drug addiction? Will she truly learn to trust another person?
June and the release of Chasing Magic cannot get here quick enough!
He smelled like home.